ITRC: Belfast: Ulster Rally preview

And here's the long and the short of it--The Stena Line Ulster Rally!The 'Ulster' remains the shortest round of the Toshiba Tarmac Championship, with all the on-stage action contained within one 24-hour period. Yet the entry list is among the ...

And here's the long and the short of it--The Stena Line Ulster Rally!The 'Ulster' remains the shortest round of the Toshiba Tarmac Championship, with all the on-stage action contained within one 24-hour period. Yet the entry list is among the longest seen so far, mainly because, in addition to the Toshiba title contenders, the Pirelli British Championship is also on the agenda for this weekend, along with a Historic rally and rounds of the Ford Focus, VW Polo and Ford Ka series. It all makes for a very long list indeed.

In all, 125 cars and crews are due to start from Donegall Place in Belfast on Friday afternoon before tackling six special stages in Co Antrim before returning to Belfast where the first car is due to arrive at 23.00 hours. Six hours later they will set off on the second leg, taking in nine special stages in Co Tyrone and Co Londonderry before returning to Belfast again for the finish in the late afternoon. It's a compact route totalling 130 competitive miles, but only the brave would dare to predict an outcome.

In theory Andrew Nesbitt starts as favourite, having dominated the Toshiba points table since the Circuit of Ireland at Easter, but the opposition keeps getting stronger. Following the swarm of British Championship Super 1600 runners occupying the first nine starting positions (not to be ignored on the Ulster where conditions might suit them and containing such names as Justin Dale, Kris Meeke and Rory Galligan) Austin McHale is top A8 seed at No 10 with the Toyota Ireland Corolla WRC. Nesbitt's Subaru will follow him off the start ramp with another Corolla in the hands of the very experienced - and fast - Jonny Milner in his wheel tracks. Derek McGarrity, anxious for a good result on his 'home' event comes next with another Impreza, followed by Gwyndaf Evans in the fast but fragile MG ZR Super 1600 car. Peadar Hursons Gp A Toyota Celica is next, and could spring a surprise on the establishment. Hurson has already shown winning pace this year but reliability problems have kept him out of the final results. Eamonn Boland's 'new shape' Impreza is at No 17, with Robert Woodside's Impreza next in line. The sprint specialist has gone well on several British rounds this year, although accidents have blunted his record. He is another Ulster driver keen to do well in front of a home crowd. Martin Rowe's Super 1600 Puma slips in at No 19 ahead of the WRC cars of Daniel Doherty (Impreza No 20), David Greer (Corolla, No 21) and Maurice Gass (Impreza No 22), all of which are capable of surprising some of the more established runners on their home turf. Top Group N seeds are Alistair Ginley and Trevor Cathers at 23 and 24 in their Mitsubishis.

The formbook suggests another Nesbitt demonstration, with some possible interference from Milner and possibly McGarrity. However there's a lot of talent at the head of the field and a lot of ambition too, while the class battles further down the field should make for a fascinating event.

To keep abreast of developments as they happen, stay in touch with toshibarally.com or, better still, sign up for the text message service. Spectator access to special stages is restricted in the interests of safety this year, but keeping in touch by mobile has never been easier. It's almost as good as being there!

-itrc-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Alistair Ginley , Martin Rowe , Justin Dale , Kris Meeke , Gwyndaf Evans , Austin McHale